Taking chances on horses, husband

Catherine Hilliard with Marley during her first visit to Ireland, a weeklong vacation that changed her life.

"Miss, you've a bit of a tear," a man said as he trotted by on his horse, and I noticed a hole in my jacket sleeve. It had caught on a tree branch when my horse went "haring" across the field with the others after the hounds.

I had agreed to go foxhunting in Ireland despite the reports of how wild it was. I trotted my Irish hunter, Riley, up to my riding companion. I glanced down and saw the real "bit of a tear." The leg of my breeches was torn, exposing my entire thigh. I tried to keep my arm positioned over the naked area, but gave up; I needed that arm to stay on. We were off again!

Ahead of me, the pack of 30 riders and horses were hopping over a creek. My friend couldn't help but notice my torn breeches. He barely had time to ask whether I was OK before it was our turn to cross the creek. His horse took a giant leap just ahead of me, but even that didn't prepare me for what was coming. Sitting atop a 17-hand horse may have skewed my view, but that bank was definitely 6 feet down, across and back up - like nothing I'd ever crossed on a horse or even on my own two feet.

"Come on, we'll be left behind," my friend exclaimed.

Riley decided for himself the best way to cross this creek with a wimp on his back. He slid his front feet down the first part and his back feet scrambled after, then he climbed up the other side. My friend was off before Riley's front hooves touched the other side, and I had no choice but to follow him at a full gallop.

That was my second trip to Ireland. My first was a few months earlier, when I treated myself to an equestrian holiday in the charming town of Adare. Little did I know the impact a weeklong vacation would have on my life. During that week, I met the adventurous friend who persuaded me to return to Ireland and go foxhunting. Within six months, he also persuaded me to become his wife and make a life with him in Ireland.

The months and years that followed were as mind-blowing as that foxhunt. Giving up the comfortable life I had and making a new start in a foreign country were as scary as crossing that first creek. My soon-to-be-husband reacted to my fears of the unknown just as he had to my hesitating on that bank: "Come on, we'll be left behind." So I took the leap.

Some of the challenges I encountered were perplexing, and I often wondered whether I had made the right choice. But I learned that sometimes, no matter how settled you are, you have to take a chance and do something impulsive. Even if it is simply to prove to yourself that you can.

Catherine Hilliard and her husband live in Ardmore, Montgomery County.